If exercise is part of your weight loss plan (as it should be), then you’re probably familiar with the idea of the fat burn zone. It’s the idea that exercising at a particular heart-rate intensity will optimize your fat burn for each workout period. You’ve probably noticed that many cardio machines at the gym direct you to work out in the fat burn zone for the best results. You might have gotten the impression that maintaining your heart rate in this particular zone will help you lose the most weight.
But unfortunately, that’s not entirely true. There is more than one type of fat in the body, and working out in the fat burn zone might not actually target the fat you’re hoping to lose. Exercising this way does indeed help you burn the most fat stored inside muscles, so you should certainly see results on the scale. But the fat stored under your skin, such as “beer guts” and “love handles” is probably the fat you’re truly wanting to target. And the fat burn zone doesn’t really help you burn more of that type of fat.
It’s frustrating, but there isn’t a perfect method of telling the body which fat cells to burn first. That’s why women often lament that breast or hip fat is the first to go, when they were mostly hoping to target belly fat! That fat will eventually go, but only with long-term, dedicated effort. The key to burning more body fat is by burning the most energy possible with each workout, regardless of the “fat burn zones” dictated by those cardio machines.
Since most of us can’t work out for hours per day, our exercise time is limited. If you only get 30 minutes for exercise, your best bet is still to burn the most calories possible during that time period. That means working out at the highest intensity level you can personally tolerate, for as much of that 30 minutes as possible.
Of course, if you work out at maximum intensity every single day, you do risk burnout or even injury. So your best bet is to alternate high-intensity exercise with lower-intensity workouts. This way, you maximize your calorie burn in a reasonable manner, and make steady, realistic progress toward your goals.
The bottom line: Don’t worry too much about what your elliptical machine or stationary bike says about fat burn zones. Push yourself to an intensity that feels challenging to you personally, but alternate the type of exercises you perform so that you can protect yourself from injuries. And as always, come see us before beginning an exercise program, so that we can make sure the regimen is safe for you to pursue.